[Education Issue]

What you can and can’t learn at UNLV

Budget woes mean fewer options for students in higher education


This week, university students file back into classrooms for the start of a new academic year, and with them come the standard complaints. Textbooks are so expensive. Required classes are offered at inconvenient times—or they’re full, just like the stupid, far-away parking lots. Yet, among the back-to-school banter of students ready—or resigned—to learn are some serious issues and valid complaints plaguing the higher-education system.

Perhaps the most pressing: You just can’t learn what you used to.

In June, the Board of Regents nearly unanimously (12-1-0) voted to eliminate entire programs from the academic catalog. It was an act they, along with university administration, stressed was heartbreaking but unavoidable. Budgets had been cut; money had to come from somewhere. Altogether, they saved $4 million in academic costs alone.

Of course, the long-term costs of eliminating programs such as clinical laboratory sciences might be far greater than the short-term benefits. But in a time of economic crisis, gambles must be made. CLS is expensive to run, so never mind the fact it offered the state’s only four-year program, or that many of its students were BA-holding, non-degree-seeking students seeking certifications required to work in the industry. The College of Southern Nevada plans to pick up UNLV’s orphaned program, but with no definite timeline or commitment made by the regents, holding your breath for the program’s rebirth might be ill advised.

In a state already struggling with more than its fair share of health care issues, the prospect of a shortage of professional medical and laboratory technicians terrifies.

It could be worse, though. We could all be going crazy.

Another one of the whole programs offered like a sacrificial lamb to the budget-cut ax was the department of marriage and family therapy. According to department chair Gerald Weeks, marriage and family therapists account for half of all mental health providers in the state, and because UNLV offers Southern Nevada’s only certification program, eliminating it is akin to axing the university’s nursing program. The mental health industry would collapse, Weeks says.

Daunted by that prospect, the department came up with a way to save themselves: a self-supported graduate program that draws funds not through the higher-ed system’s semi-complicated enrollment-dependent equation but directly from student’s fees and tuition. It’s similar to how UNLV’s MBA program runs and will result in students paying higher costs. However, Weeks says the new cost is where they should have been all along.

Now, the department’s biggest problem is publicity, or lack thereof. Word hasn’t spread that the department is still around. Weeks hopes it will soon, so he can stop fielding phone calls from people asking where aspiring therapists should go instead of UNLV.

The department of marriage and family therapy’s new self-sustaining structure might be a testing ground for other programs at the university, but Provost Michael Bowers says it’s a complicated solution. Many graduate programs—say, English—don’t have the clientele to be self-supported. The option will be explored on a case-to-case basis.

But for some programs, it’s already too late. Joining CLS in the academic graveyard are informatics, educational leadership, sports education leadership and urban horticulture. (The department of sports and recreational management is also being disbanded; the professional golf management major is folding into the hotel college, essentially saved by the university’s awesome golf team.)

Students grandfathered into the programs will be allowed to finish, while others will face the decision to find a new major or leave the university. Informatics students may go into computer science of management information systems. Those interested in sports education may opt for kinesiology.

As for urban horticulture enthusiasts ... well, apparently they didn’t exist in the first place. According to Bowers, the regents approved the creation of the department two years ago, but the university never got its feet off the ground. When it was cut, it had no students—or faculty.

Hmm. Difficult to argue for that one.


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